Bright and Dark

My old dog is pacing this morning as he often does these days. He’s a thirteen year old chow mix who has arthritis in his hips IMG_8636and shoulders (not helped by the leap he took from a second story window as a young pup, or the time he went through a plate glass window in terror over fireworks on New Year’s Eve and ran like hell for miles, only limping home at four in the morning with a sheepish expression). He’s not completely deaf, but not far off.  He sometimes stops now in the middle of the room with a bewildered expression, and I know he forgot what he was doing.  Since I’m familiar with this, I tell him to go back where he started and his purpose for going to the kitchen will come back to him.

The point is, he’s old and getting really old right before my eyes. The pacing started recently, just a restless, endless circling of whatever floor we’re on. He can’t get comfortable. He has all the supplements and the painkillers and a special drug for Cushings and….well, none of it is going to keep him alive forever.

12705453_10153418938840893_4732546385600136097_nOn the other hand, I have a new granddaughter.

The Quiet Middle Week

Here it is, that week between Christmas and New Year. This is when many businesses are shut down or only operating on half-staff. There’s nothing much to take care of, all the shopping is done. As a girl, out of school and often stuck inside because of snow and cold, I would read and read and read.  As I got older, I often started planning the upcoming year–things I wanted to do, see, accomplish.

This year, I’m in San Antonio with my son and daughter-in-law and the mighty Amara. We are waiting for the New Baby, due in six days. I’m here to help the family with practical things like cooking, picking up, smoothing the transition when baby sister actually arrives. I’m here to spend time with my darling girl, too, of course. I’m so relieved to realize that last year, I was afraid our relationship would become frayed with distance, and it turns out it has not.  I’m lucky enough to be able to have the resources to fly down here regularly, a job that is flexible enough that I can take the time off, and an agreeable son & DIL.

I’m thinking about the new year and what I’d like to accomplish. I have an ambitious schedule of writing for both Barbara and Lark (I know my Barbara readers have been sad about the long delay between titles) and some other things brewing.  I’ve made some changes in my work life to give myself more time to exercise and see IRL friends now and then, but mainly, this year is focused on the writing.  SO many exciting things are happening, including the really fun project I’m doing with Serial Box publishing. (More as I know actual release dates.)

A marketing person said to me, “Sounds like your spirit social media is blogging,” and she was right, so that’s on agenda, too. I’m handing off some of the stuff I don’t like and spending more time here. I hope you’ll join me for talk about writing, books, life. Painting. Probably cats. Here is a cat for today:

Looking for a cuddle
Looking for a cuddle

The Story of Neko, involving good luck, good Samaritans, and a good helping of cat charm

On Saturday night, Neko somehow escaped into the backyard when Jack when outside. We didn’t notice he was gone until Sunday morning, when he didn’t show up for breakfast (and believe me, breakfast is his favorite thing). I felt sick to my stomach when I realized he was gone. We went out to look for him, calling and calling, but nothing.

Not on Sunday, or Monday. Monday morning, I made a couple dozen posters with his picture and walked around taping them to the central mailboxes all over the neighborhood, along with taping them to the park signs (there are two parks–gotta love the suburbs). I tried to figure out line of sight for a cat–over fences, down sidewalks, and posted in those places.

CR went to the Humane Society. I signed up for a pet alert service.

I was not, this time, particularly worried about foxes. He’s a big cat, and fierce, and fast, and young. I WAS really, really, really fretting about the cold. It’s been below twenty most nights. He’s a very coddled cat.

I also worried that somebody would just like him so much they wouldn’t return him. He’s so adorable, and really pretty, and a total charmer.

Tuesday, nothing.

How to Shake Up Your Life *

Three years ago, we lost Leo, the liveliest cat on the planet, to a fox.  He was eleven. He went the way he lived, and as much as I miss him, I know it was a death of honor for him.

Then we lost Sasha to old age in January.   Which left us with Esmerelda, the 22 year old Siamese; Athena, a very fat 13 year old silver tabby, and Jack, who isn’t that old at 8, but has had a couple of knee surgeries and other ailments, and was slowing down.

For months I’ve been looking out of the corner of my eye for young animals.  Christopher Robin wants us to provide homes for old dogs that nobody wants (which just shows you what kind of man he is and why a person might love him), and I’m fine with that, but just now, this house needed youth and exuberance.

Enter kittens.  Two kittens, siblings, Rafael and Gabrielle, tuxedo babies who are shaking everything up.  Suddenly Jack wants to play.  Suddenly Athena is aware that there is life beyond the back porch (mainly growling, “No, I said I do not want to play tag. Get lost.” Over and over again).  CR has discovered he might actually be a cat person.  I have learned to type with one kitten on my head and another wrapped around my neck, giving me purring in stereo.

Not everyone wants the chaos animals bring into our lives, but this was the answer for us.  Welcome, babies! We’re so happy to have you!

(That’s Gabi in front. Rafe in the back.  My legs are their bed. :))

*Couldn’t resist the play on How to Bake a Perfect Life, which will be out in just two months! (December 21).   It must be time to give away an Advance Reading Copy!

A beautiful loaf

Jack had to have a bit of surgery this week (he’s fine, he’s fine!) and when I got home from finding out, I didn’t even take off my sweater. I gravitated to the kitchen and started pulling out flour. This is the result, a wheaty loaf, using a small amount of buckwheat in a poolish starter.


I’ve said before that my dog Sasha is at the end. It’s not a dire situation by any means—she’s still hanging out in the kitchen with me when she’s awake, hoping to get a treat, as she has done for the last 17 years. She is still very happy to get canned food mixed with the dry at breakfast time, and can toddle around the park nearby my house once or twice a week if I am very patient. She can’t hear a thing and all that’s left of her sight is the left half of the left eye, and even her sense of smell is pretty much gone, meaning I have to put her food right under her face and show it to her or she doesn’t know it’s there. She spends a lot of her waking hours walking in a circle about the size of an exercise ball.

She doesn’t smell very good. She pants more than breathes. She toddles around in her little green fleece with DGG on the back because she’s grown so thin she can’t stay warm, and last week, I had to start giving her regular doses of morphine, at night. A few days later, I had to add daytime doses.

For months I’ve known we (I) would have to let her go soon. But here I am, trying to be present, day by day, happy for each little extra time I can kiss her. Grateful to carry her old-doggy-smelling self up the stairs one more time, carry her down once more. Kiss her nose and rub her haunches when she wakes up whining in the middle of the night. We are both—Christopher Robin and I—in dire need of more sleep because she wakes up every night at least twice and needs to be carried outside, changed, cleaned up, given her medicine.

What I keep thinking of is the end of my grandmother’s life. She spent most of the last six months or so in a nursing home, which she adamantly, tearfully hated. She was frail and had dementia and the plethora of medications she had to take was like the ABCs of pharmaceuticals. It was, for me, quite terrifying in ways. I didn’t know how to do anything. I didn’t know what to do. It was easy to spend an hour then run away, or take her to lunch once a month (less) and tell myself I was participating in her care.

I hadn’t learned then what I am learning now.

One afternoon when my grandmother had begun to fade, she was in a hospital somewhere. I can’t remember. There were windows with pale light, and she was exhausted and fussy and wanted a bath but a nurse didn’t come and didn’t come.

My sister took over. She drew the curtain and undressed the frail, think body of my grandmother, and gave her a sponge bath right there in her bed, washing her limbs and beneath her old breasts, tenderly, competently doing what needed to be done. I knew at the time that I would find it uncomfortable, that I was about 1/6th the person my sister was. I was younger then, and I had not yet repeatedly washed the diarrhea from the fur and legs and belly of an old dog. I had not stayed awake in the middle of the night then, to gently rub the haunches of a dog in pain, waiting for her meds to kick in. I had not learned to laugh at the circling cheerful dementia, to go ahead and let myself kiss her nose and cry over the absurdity and indignities of it all, then blow my nose and get her cleaned up again. I had not learned how to love the end stages of life then. Sasha is teaching me how to show up, how to be present, how to just be the hands that don’t mind getting bitten now and then, to be the voice murmuring close to her ear, how to appreciate the tender, tragic, comic, vibrant stage that comes at the end of life.

I’m grateful. It is one of the most valuable lessons of my life. And I remember, once again—cliched as it may be to say it—that animals teach us how to be human.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from your animals?

The Ancient One


Who’s old?





















My ancient Sasha (going on 17) has been having some old lady troubles the past couple of months–things are just getting tired.  Many days, she will at least walk some of the way, even it’s slow (which annoys Jack to no end. “You’re kidding, right? You have to pee again?”), but some days, I leave her at home with a bone.   Cute, eh?

Meeting bears up close

Grizzly bear encounterAnyone who has read here for any length of time knows that I have bear worries when I hike.  I even have dreams about them sometimes, but I’m not willing to give up hiking. 

Today, to celebrate my birthday, Christopher Robin arranged a surprise: he took me to the zoo for a “Grizzly Bear Encounter.”   We went behind the scenes, into the back rooms, and even into the enclosure to learn more about grizzlies. 

The best part was feeding a grizzly bear through a grate, looking at his giant head and incredible paws and realizing they’re like dogs, kind of.  Savage dogs. Dogs that weigh 600 pounds, but definitely dog-like in aspect and attitudes.  They’re curious. They’re smart.  They’re not particularly friendly if they don’t feel like it and they will definitely kill you for food if they are hungry, but for some reason, looking into those giant faces made me GET it on some deep level.  

I also realized it is completely silly NOT to carry bear spray when I hike in the deep woods by myself.  The trainers told me that. And they never, ever go into the enclosures with the bears. That says something, don’t you think?

It’s equally silly to demonize wildlife and make it into something Disney-esque.  I can be at peace with bears if I know and understand what they are.  Can we have a cheer for CR for understanding that and giving me such a cool birthday present?  For a YouTube video, check this out:

Life With (Bad) Dogs

jack-and-sasha-competitionI have two rescue dogs. You’ve met Jack, my neurotic and stunningly gorgeous Chow mix, who prances more than walks and has been known to do things like bolt through my front window in terror over fireworks (a double-paned mullioned picture window on a bitterly cold New Year’s Eve). Jack is six, and stars as Alvin in The Lost Recipe for Happiness. 


Today, Sasha takes center stage. Sasha, also known as the pirate dog, was baking in the white hot summer sun in front of Safeway almost fifteen years ago.  Some kind of midsize terrier mutt, a three ring circus of a dog from that day to this.  These days, she’s stone deaf and half blind and it doesn’t matter in the slightest. She walks a mile and a half on hills every day, and hourly makes her tour of interior perimeter of the house to be sure that no food has fallen on the floor since her last trip, and while Jack snuffles along animal trails in the parks, Sasha’s great joy is finding mouldering pototo chips or maybe a half-eaten candy bar caked with dirt! She’s the greatest scavenger known to canines. 


Lately, I’ve been trying to remind myself that dogs don’t live as long as humans, and a dog this size aged 15 is probably about 85 in dog years. She has lumps and bumps all over, and the last time I took her to the vet they said not to bother with one of the vaccines. You brace yourself as well as possible, but is any of us ever really ready?  I thought she was done for last winter, when she and Jack had a fight over cat food (from which she emerged bloodied but victorious) and they had to put her under to check her eye.  She was fine.


But there it is, her ancientness, looming.


Just before Christmas, I was making cookies. I put a tray in the oven, then went around the corner, maybe 15 feet away, to hang a few more ornaments on the tree.  I heard a funny noise and ran back into the kitchen, and there was Sasha, sprawled flat on her belly, limbs sprawled wide.  She was having a seizure, her whole body twitching and convulsing, and I fell on the floor next to her.  Unsure of what I should do, I just put my hands on her, talking soothingly, telling her I loved her, and I put my hands on her sides to see if that would make her stop twitching, or at least make her feel less afraid. “I’m here, baby,” I said, “I’m here.”

When I lifted her slightly, it must have given her body a little help, because she suddenly heaved and coughed, and out of her mouth flew out a perfectly round ball of butter.   She’d stolen a whole stick off the counter and tried to get outside with it, but before she could make her getaway, the stick melted in her mouth, and settled in her throat, quite efficiently choking her.  When it landed on the floor, she scrambled as fast as she could to grab it again, but I was faster and nabbed it out of reach.  


She leapt up after it, and when she saw she had lost, her only expression was, “Curses! I almost made it.”

Nothing in life makes me laugh harder than dogs.  Do you have a pirate dog? A scavenger? A neurotic beauty? Tell me a dog story!